The Rohingya people are an ethnic Muslim minority who practice of Sunni Islam In Myanmar. A large number of the about one million Rohingya in Myanmar live in Rakhine State, where they form nearly a third of its population. They are different from Myanmar’s other ethnic groups which are mostly Buddhist, ethnically, in Language, and also religiously.
Rohingya have traced their origin in the region to the fifteenth century when a large number of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom. A lot more people came during the 19th and early 20th centuries.Governments in the Country since its independence in 1948 have denied the historical claims of the Rohingya and have continuously denied them recognition as part of its 135 ethnic groups.They are largely seen as illegal immigrants who migrated from Bangladesh.
The government policies since the late 1970s have always been discriminatory and this has forced thousands of Muslim Rohingya to leave their homes in the mainly Buddhist country. They have crossed by land into Bangladesh, some crossed the sea into Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Recent violent attacks, including rape, arson, and murder, in the last one year, has caused a significant number of people of the Rohingya tribe to become displaced in western Myanmar. To worsen their situation, Myanmar’s neighboring countries are slow in taking in the refugees.
The Myanmar government has refused to grant the Rohingya people citizenship, thus a large number of the people of the ethnic group are not legally documented, making them a stateless people.They are only allowed to register as temporary residents with I.d cards which is called white cards.These cards are issued to both Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims.The cards have limited rights and are not seen as a proof of citizenship.
The government in 2014 held a UN-backed national census, Rohingya group was initially allowed to identify as Rohingya, but the Buddhist nationalists then threatened to boycott the census, which made the government decide that the Rohingya can only register if they would be identified as Bengali instead.
In 2015, the government was also put under pressure by Buddhist nationalists who protested the Rohingya’s right to vote in the 2015 constitutional referendum. Former President Thein Sein then canceled the temporary identity cards issued the minority group in February 2015, making them unable to vote as they did in the 2008 constitutional referendum and in the general elections in 2010.
The Rohingya people are fleeing Myanmar because the government has continued to discriminate against the group by means of restrictions on marriage, employment, choice of religion, family planning, tohaveeducation, as well as freedom of movement. For instance, Rohingya couples in the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are permited to have just two kids.They must also ask for permission to get married, which may sometimes require them to ‘tip the authorities and submit photographs of the bride with her head uncovered and the groom must be clean-shaven, which is against Muslim customs. Relocating to a new home or taking a trip outside their town, requires government approval.
Religious differences between the Buddhists and Rohingya often results in clashes.
In 2012, a conflict broke when Rohingya Muslim men were alleged to have raped and killed a Buddhist woman. The Buddhist nationalists retaliated by burning Rohingya houses, in the process more than 280 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced. Rights group say the violence against Rohingya is a crime against humanity adding that it was a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Rohingya prefer to risk their lives crossing the sea to other neighboring countries than to stay in Myanmar.The are seeking refuge in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. In some cases, they account for about 90 percent of the refugees in the host countries.
This crisis may continue to linger if the international community does not take urgent steps to put an end to this merciless killings of innocent people and the continuous discrimination of a people who have nowhere else to call home.